The Old Montreal building that erupted in flames last March, leaving seven people dead, was flagged repeatedly for fire safety violations in the years leading up to the incident.
Documents obtained by CBC News under access-to-information legislation show the owner, Emile Benamor, had a history of violations starting in 2009, shortly after he bought the historic greystone.
That year, fire inspectors with the Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal found problems with the building, including a lack of smoke detectors but had difficulty getting Benamor to comply.
(There were still no smoke detectors three years later, according to a 2012 report. Benamor was fined $650 in 2013.)
In 2010, inspectors warned about problems with the building's fire escape. A year later, they sent a complaint about the issue to the Régie du bâtiment, the province's building authority.
Owner difficult to reach
Problems persisted at the building, located at the intersection of Place d'Youville and du Port Street, in the years that followed.
In May 2018, a fire inspector found 10 violations during a visit to the building, including the lack of a working fire alarm, no clear signage for the emergency exits and a missing smoke detector in the stairway.
The problems had not been addressed when the inspector returned in September of that year.
Another fire inspector who visited in February 2019, found that the fire alarm was not up to code and not loud enough to ensure tenants could hear it inside their units.
Those problems had also not been addressed when the inspector returned to do a followup in October 2020.
Inspectors, as well, had trouble meeting Benamor on several occasions.
During that visit in 2019, for example, Tremblay tried to meet with Benamor but instead was only able to speak with his secretary. He also wasn't present for the followup visit.
It's unclear, based on the inspection reports, if all the problems listed were eventually addressed.
Benamor has not returned a request for comment through his lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin.
The last recorded inspection of the building appears to have been in 2019, though officials appear to have followed up on the case file in 2021 and 2022.
Building viewed as 'fire trap'
Former tenants and guests at the building have told CBC they had safety concerns. One said it felt like "a fire trap."
The building housed long-term and short-term rentals, including Airbnbs, which are prohibited in this area of Old Montreal under a bylaw adopted in 2018. One of the units had no windows.
(None of the inspections obtained by CBC mentioned a windowless apartment.)
Airbnb has since said it would remove all Quebec listings that have not been authorized by the provincial government.
The Quebec government has ordered a public inquiry into the fire.
WATCH | Grieving sister describes the days after the fatal Old Montreal fire:
Randy Sears, the father of one of the victims, has applied to launch a class-action lawsuit against the building's owner, the operators of the short-term rental units and Airbnb.
Sears claims there was a lack of safety equipment in the building and the units did not meet municipal safety standards. His claims have not been tested in court.
When contacted by CBC News, a spokesperson for the city declined to comment on this story given that a coroner's inquiry has been ordered.